Based on the Yoga Sutras, one of the five causes of suffering is too much attachment, too much desire, raga.
« avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesa klesah » – Sutra 3, Chapter 2, Light On The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali, B.K.S Iyengar
The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of « I », attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life.
Being one of those people who put her heart and soul in everything I do, I see how true this statement is for me. In my personal interpretation of this sutra, and particularly of raga, I do not put the emphasis on attachment to pleasure, as I believe that too much attachment in general does lead to suffering, and think that reducing it to attachment to pleasure is too restrictive as we can benefit from the teaching of this sutra in other areas of attachment. Here are a few of the ways we get easily attached in our daily lives.
Clinging to things
This one is an easy one, since we have examples everyday of how we get attached to things. Simply using « my » before any personal belonging is one of the ways we tend to associate ourselves with objectifs, and start putting a lot of energy in order to protect « our » things. We become vulnerable here since we start transferring a part of who we believe we are into the things we have. We start confusing what we are with what we have, and put our heart into things instead of gestures, intentions or memories. We confuse the pleasure we can get from using things with the thing itself.
In some cases, we use things as memories, and start believing that the artefact is the memory itself, that we need these things to remember. There is without a doubt pleasure in going through objects to remind ourselves of good memories, and there is pleasure in keeping those objects around us to create a warm and comforting home for ourselves. However, this pleasure leads to desire and emotional attachment, as we are reminded by the yoga sutra 7 in Chapter 2, and we have to be careful to remind ourselves that we can get pleasure from these things, but that getting too attached to them will undoubtedly cause us some suffering if we ever come to lose them.
« sukha anusayi ragah » – Sutra 7, Chapter 2, Light On The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali, B.K.S Iyengar
Life gives us from time to time some reminders that we may be clinging too much to our stuff, as it happened to Eric Friedensohn who lost everything in a fire, but who really needs that kind of reminder that what we do not need any of this material to live a fulfilling life?
Limiting ourselves to identities
This one is a tricky one. Once we start acknowledging that we do not need much stuff, and start practicing this detachment from material things, we may start relying on other ways to satisfy our need of recognition. It is often easier for me to detach myself from objects than it is to let go of the identities I use to describe myself. However, those representations of ourselves will always be less than who we are. As soon as we start describing ourselves, our experience, we are losing a part of its essence that cannot be described with words. We are limiting ourselves to a word, an idea, when we have the potential to become much more.
In our society, we often use our representation of our active self as workers to describe who we are. One of the first questions we ask someone we meet is « What do you do for a living? », as it helps us get a bigger picture of the person and give us some info we believe to be true on that person. Or is it? If you tell me you are a lawyer, I already have thoughts about what a lawyer do, where it should live based on its revenue, and what its lifestyle might look like. Already, I am not looking at the person in front of me anymore, I am envisioning a representation of that person and projecting old ideas about lawyers to the person in front of me. Already, I am limiting that person to some concepts, and not being totally present with who I have in front of me. I use old stories to create new stories. But who is really in front of me?
My objective is to eventually let go of stories and live a meaningful and authentic life. Therefore, I have to let go of these labels I tend to put on others as well as on myself, to be able to deal with who and what I have to deal right here, right now. It’s all about giving the opportunity for yourself to break free from that limiting identity, those limiting identities, to have the courage to stand for who you are really, which cannot be describe in only a few words. I might be a vegetarian, a runner, a sister, a girlfriend, a communications advisor, a yogi, a student, but no word can describe me as a wholesome and unique human being. Let’s not get too attached to one or multiple identities. Let’s see how we can seize people with our heart and wisdom, instead of with words.
Not clinging to things or identities is sometimes hard work, but for me the most challenging area where I need to be careful about not getting too attached is when I think about my future, since working towards my dream vision and goals gives meaning to my life.
I believe in the power of dreaming about a brighter future, of working towards a clear vision of what we want for ourselves. This clear vision is what keeps me going, and it is also what brings me back to my core values and what I really stand for when I’m doubting, when I start getting lost, when I have to make a decision that will impact my future. It is without any hesitation the why of everything I do.
When well-established, this clear vision of your ideal life can be truly powerful. To work towards it, we set ourselves goals, little steps that will slowly but surely takes us there eventually. Those stepping stones are the how we believe we will get to live our dream vision. They are the how.
However, we tend sometimes to confuse the how with the why. There are many ways to get to make our dream vision happen, the path is not always that definite. My dream vision is much more about a way to feel and live, a broader vision of what I want my life to look like, than a fixed objective. That’s what I focus my attention on, the strong feelings of calm, serenity and joy I feel when I envision my dream life.
How can I make myself feel free, work on projects I care about, see the people I love, on a daily basis? I can get another degree, get a new job, find a new home, buy a car, and many other things, to get there. These steps can represent my stepping stones, but as soon as I start clinging too much on one of them, as soon as I start believing there is no other way to accomplish my dream vision, that’s when I get caught in the trap of too much attachment. I start suffering, because I start believing that I have to get something, succeed absolutely in one area of my life, to concretize my dream vision. The pressure I put on myself to reach that objective makes me more anxious, and I am no longer enjoying the journey, no longer open to new experiences.
I love thinking about our societies, how we organize ourselves, how we can become happier and live meaningful lives. I’d love to explore that more and more, and I’m thinking about eventually becoming a researcher and a teacher. One way to do so is to get a Ph.D., and in order to get accepted to the Ph.D., I have to have to be an A-student. As soon as I start getting really attached to that objective, I no longer enjoy studying for the pleasure of knowledge in itself, and my focus moves towards getting an A instead of learning and becoming a great human being.
In those moments, I need to take a step back, and take a look at the bigger picture. Let’s say it is truly my calling to be a teacher and to teach happiness. Then there are many ways to do so other than getting a Ph.D. Some of the best teachers I know, teachers I respect for their wisdom and skills, are yoga teachers. They might not be into academics, but they have a great impact in their community. Taking a step back makes me realize that if I do not get accepted in a Ph.D. program, there are other ways to realize my dream vision.
Our job is to work on the why, life takes care of the how. A clear vision will take us much further than set goals, and brings more meaning overall than reaching any fixed objective could. Living your dream life is not something you can check off a to-do list, it’s something you do on a daily basis, for the rest of your life. The goals we define for ourselves are simply tools we use, based on what we think we need to do to live a certain way. When we want to get somewhere, we map out our way there, but what makes the road trip interesting are the things that weren’t planned, the beautiful landscapes we didn’t expect, the surprising people we meet. Let’s stay open to that, shall we?
Choose what you get attached to carefully
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for detachment in all situations. I simply want to make us realize that since attachment will eventually lead to suffering once we lose what we got attached to, we have to be careful about what we choose to put our heart into, so that the joy it brings us is important enough for us to care about it even if we know that we will eventually suffer from its lost. I cannot live a life without attachment to the people I love, the causes I care about, and I accept that I will get hurt for engaging in some way. That’s what makes the most sense to me, what gives meaning to my life, and I’m fine with it.